Review of The Castle of Otranto

The first book that I completed for the Gothic challenge was The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole. The first edition of this work was released in 1764 and it was claimed to be a translation of a manuscript that was printed in 1529 that Walpole had rediscovered.  And Walpole purported that the story was actually even older, and that it dated back to the time of the Crusades.  Several reviewers, thinking that this was a medieval novel, were impressed by the work and gave it favorable reviews.  However, Walpole came clean when the second edition of the work was released.  He identified himself as the writer.  He wrote, “The favourable manner in which this little piece has been received by the public, calls upon the author to explain the grounds on which he composed it.”  He continued by saying that it was “an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern. In the former all was imagination and improbability: in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with success.”  After this admission, many of the critics were not happy to be duped and were not kind to the work or to the author.  Many dismissed it as nonsense.  Even though the critics disliked the work, the edition that I read of this novel was the 131st edition.  It has had staying power and has rarely been out of print.

I started with this work since it is thought to be the first novel that fits into the gothic genre.  It seemed like the perfect novel to begin this challenge.

This delightful tale starts off with a bang.  On his wedding day, Conrad, the son of Manfred, is crushed to death by a large helmet.  How and why did this happen?  A prophecy may help to explain the bizarre event.  “That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.”

The loss of his son causes Manfred, the lord of the castle, to panic. He wants his bloodline and control of the castle to continue.  He resolves to marry Conrad’s intended, the princess Isabella.  But there are two problems.  Manfred is already married.  And Isabella does not want to marry him.  Manfred determines to divorce his wife.  But Isabella runs away.  Manfred, who is used to getting his way, pursues her.

From this point on, the story gets even better.  The servants are running around frightened half to death by strange sounds and visions within the castle.  Newcomers to town end up involved in the drama at the castle.  Manfred’s daughter Matilda gets involved in the action.  And nothing goes as planned.  Haunted castles, a power-crazed lord of the castle, prophesies, frightened inhabitants, and mysterious strangers all add up to an entertaining and sometimes frightening tale.

Overall I enjoyed this work.  It did take some getting used to since Walpole was imitating medieval writing and the writing style was quite different from the typical novels I read.  I had a hard time figuring out who was talking in the book.  Quotation marks were not used to indicate that someone was speaking.  Also, the paragraphs are quite long and packed full detail.  Once I became accustomed to this style, I found myself engrossed in the story.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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9 Responses to Review of The Castle of Otranto

  1. Carl V. says:

    I am so happy that you enjoyed this one. I think that bodes well for your future gothic reads. I read this for the first time back in 2006 during the inaugural R.I.P. Challenge and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Unfortunately I didn’t do a review on it. I’m going to have to read it again sometime.

    I am particularly fond of the gothic genre. Things that go bump in the night, the romanticism of the work, etc. It is the kind of reading that most embodies autumn for me and thus I love to sample new gothic or gothic-inspired works during that time of year.

  2. cheratomo says:

    This sounds like a very good book. I’ll definitely check it out. 😀

  3. TBM says:

    I really enjoyed this work. It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon and early evening on my deck. Also, I really enjoyed the history behind this book. I loved how the critics loved it and then when Walpole confessed to tricking the reading public they got angry. Thank goodness it survived this and was reprinted over and over for people to enjoy over the centuries.

  4. Skye says:

    Is the book unintentionally funny? Poor Conrad getting crushed by a helmet on his wedding day. It sounds like a great read.

    • TBM says:

      I think Walpole is poking fun at the aristocracy by having the servants seem stupid when In fact they know what is going on, but they want to get out of trouble or work. They make the master look silly.

      Killed by a very large helmet. Not the best way to go I would imagine.

  5. Caroline says:

    Is it not the Castle of Otranto that Jane Austen makes fun of in Northanger Abbey. Certainly a book that tempts me but as Carl said one an earlier comment… We gotta keep some reads for the R.I.P. I’m already looking forward to it although the weather here is like autumn already. I’m surprised btw, I thought it was one of those chunky books.

  6. Thanks for this review, I found you through the Gothic reading challenge, which I’m also participating in. I have yet to read this, but am really looking forward to it!

    • TBM says:

      I really liked this one. Thanks for visiting. You have some cool challenges going! I like your blog and am looking forward to your posts.

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